The Election’s Aftermath And The Way Forward

I went to bed on Tuesday evening with still a faint glimmer of hope that the election results would turn around and prevent Trump’s election.  I saw the writing on the wall, but held on to that faint hope.  When I woke, I checked first thing and saw the results.  Since then I have been obsessively reading everything in reaction, all the think-pieces, all the click-bait, everything to try to make some sense of where we go from here.

I have not been inspired to join the protests because our system worked.  There is a certain amount of gaming of the system at the congressional level with gerrymandered districts, but that doesn’t come into play nearly as much in a presidential election.  And, although Clinton won the popular vote, just under half of Americans voted for Trump.  They also voted for Republican Congress and Senate candidates.  Now some of those people voted for him holding their noses, maybe a lot of them.  They were presented with two candidates that they did not like and chose the one most aligned with what they think is important.  My Facebook feed was filled with people complaining about the choice presented to them.  If they most often vote Republican, then they probably broke right with this choice as well.

To be clear, Mr. Trump is anathema to all I hold dear.  His rhetoric, if he is able to enact any of it, will diminish us as a country and cause real, irreparable damage to many people.  There are people who have kept xenophobic, racist, homophobic ideas hidden from public view for years who now see his rise to power as permission to bring those views out into the light of day.  Some of those people will now feel permission to act out against anyone who looks like whoever they are afraid of.  Mr. Trump’s rhetoric has poured gasoline on those embers.

Some portion of the half of the country who voted for Mr. Trump are fervent supporters who think he will save their way of life.  Another portion are single issue voters, for whom gun rights or abortion or some other concern overwhelms all other considerations.  I believe that is a short sighted way of choosing the person who represents the United States to the world, but it is not uncommon on both the left and the right.  Yet another portion are folks who saw a choice between two unpalatable candidates and chose who they thought would be the lesser of two evils.

If you look at the map of where people voted for whom, drilled down to counties, it is clear that the divide in our country is most clearly seen in the difference between city and country.  Throughout that swath of red in the middle of the country there were many pockets of blue, and they were all in and around cities.

2016 Presidential Election Votes by County
2016 Presidential Election Votes by County

Why is that?  Some of it is that when you live cheek by jowl with many different types of people, you are forced to see their humanity.  They are good and not so good just like you and yours.  More telling is that the struggles and fears of people who live in the country are different than the struggles and fears of people who live in the city.

I happen to live in a strange mixture of both.  I live near a major metropolitan area, but far enough away that the culture here is distinct.  My congressional district has a Republican representative, although there have been Democrats in the past and the Democratic challenger came close to unseating him this time, although my county is light red on the map above. I live surrounded by agriculture and the folks who live and work in the fields.  I understand the cries of farmers who just want to get on with their work without so much interference from big government.  I see that some of those regulations push small farmers out of business and favor large corporations with the resources to deal with the regulations.  On the other hand I respect the need to protect the people who work for the farmers and the consumers of their products.

Now we have a situation to deal with where the presidency, the House of Representatives and the Senate are all under Republican control.  They will have the power to enact legislation that we have been staving off for years.  There will most likely be a regression in our civil rights and the most vulnerable among us will be hurt.  So what do we do?   Do we protest in the streets?  Perhaps that will be useful, if only by keeping apathy from setting in.

I have to admit that I was not active this political season and really didn’t know what I could have done, living in California where there was never any question that Hillary would win.  Hillary didn’t exactly inspire me, but I was afraid of what the Donald could do if elected.  Like many people, I just couldn’t believe that there were enough people who would really choose him.  This has been a wake-up call for me, and I believe, for many others.  I am newly committed to act in the political sphere.  I have been silent, not wishing to deal with the high emotions generated by political opinion.  I take responsibility for my inaction and vow to do better moving forward.

Since Tuesday I have struggled with the question of what to do, in what way can I, a small voice in the wilderness, actually have an effect.  Here are some of my ideas: I will support organizations that fight for the rights of vulnerable people, I will become active in the political process both locally and on a larger stage.  I will work to make sure that the state legislature is Democratic for the next census so that the congressional districts are not drawn to favor Republicans.  This is what the Republicans did in 2010 and we can see the effect.

I will speak out, but I will do so in such a way as to invite a conversation.  I am hoping to open minds and bring people together.  I will educate by meeting people where they are and listening to their concerns.  I think that is the only way affect real and lasting change.  I will not hate.  I will not fall into the trap of demonizing the other.  It feels good, it feels righteous, but all it does is promote more hate, more fear.  I was struck by an interview I heard on NPR this week with Antoine Leiris, who wrote a book after his wife was killed in the Paris attack in 2014.  “You will not have my hate” is the most powerful idea I have come across this week.  It transfers clearly to this situation.  I see a lot of hate coming from the left by people who are suddenly confronted with their own vulnerability, who are desperately afraid that this country will turn against them and that their allies will sit silently while bad things happen.  I understand that fear, I feel it for my family, and for myself.  The trends are not going in the right direction.

I have watched, in my personal sphere, the social and political divide grow deeper and deeper.  The Black Lives Matter movement has sparked truly ugly reactions from otherwise reasonable people.  There is a lack of ability to imagine what someone from another group is going through.  People see the protests, and the inconvenience, and the disruption but not the reasons people are taking to the streets.  They see people angry with police, and don’t stop to think about the years of persistent prejudice and the system stacked against a person of color in our society.  They think that because they can go their whole life without knowing someone who has been arrested, and if they are arrested it is because they did something to deserve it, that the same dynamic is true everywhere and for everyone.

This election has placed in sharp relief the division in our society.  We must find a way to come together, or we will be torn apart.  We must be powerful advocates for the most vulnerable of our society, but advocate does not necessarily mean adversary.  Now I am not saying that an adversarial approach be verboten, I am just saying that we need to be careful to use that approach judiciously and where it might actually do some good.  I have admired the strategists from the right for many years, they are focused and take a long view.  The Democratic coalition has always been more inclusive, and as such, not nearly as focused, with priorities going in many different directions.

Perhaps this is the wake-up call we need to truly come together and act with purpose.  I hope that the current anger does not turn into despair and apathy.  “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”  My greatest fear is that we will slump into silence and apathy, and promise, for myself and my little corner of the world, to act.  I implore everyone out there to do the same, figure out a plan for yourself and what is most important to you, and act.  Rage, but don’t just lash out.  Rage with purpose and a plan.